The Agua Special Utility District, which is weighing a proposal to increase water and sewer rates, plans to hold public hearings in February, March and April.
Under the proposal, monthly base rates — the minimum charge paid by everyone with a meter — and per-gallon rates would gradually increase.
“Of course, we don’t want to affect any of our customers,” said board President Roger Hernandez. “We’re going to look at every option.”
It’s a difficult decision.
The utility district provides water to about 15,500 customers across western Hidalgo County and a small part of Starr County. Nearly 1,500 customers in Sullivan City also pay for sewer service.
Many already struggle to pay the bill.
In June, the utility district sent warnings to nearly 5,400 customers who didn’t pay their monthly bill, according to data reviewed by the board. Nearly 550 were eventually disconnected for non-payment.
Without higher rates, however, the utility district will run a budget deficit by 2023, according to a study by Jeff Snowden of Frisco-based Capex Consulting Group.
The utility district avoided rate hikes for years.
Customers with standard residential water meters pay $16.53 per month plus the price of water — the same base rate they paid in 2010.
The utility district hired Snowden to analyze water and sewer rates.
Snowden met with the board in August during a three-day workshop on South Padre Island and provided members with an updated report in November.
Under the November proposal, the utility district would gradually increase monthly base rates and per-gallon rates over a five-year period. By the fifth year, customers with standard residential water meters would pay $17.75 per month plus the cost of water.
The per-gallon charge would increase too, jumping about 3 percent every year over the five-year period.
For example, residential customers who use between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons of water per month pay $2.36 for every thousand gallons. Under the proposal, that price would gradually increase to $2.73 for every thousand gallons.
Sullivan City customers would also pay more for sewer.
Under the proposal, the average monthly sewer bill would increase from $20.84 to $26.24.
“I’m going to fight this,” said board Director Ivan Sandoval, who represents Sullivan City.
The median household income for Sullivan City, where the utility district provides water and sewer service, is about $26,400 annually, according to American Community Survey data published by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Before the utility district burdens customers with higher rates, Sandoval said he wants to review the budget and cut unnecessary costs.
Sandoval and board Director Homer Tijerina, who represents rural Hidalgo County customers, requested information about engineers and consultants employed by the utility district.
“I’m trying to see: What consultants do we have?” Sandoval said. “And what work have they done?”
While he wants to avoid higher rates as long as possible, Sandoval said he thinks a majority of the seven-member board will support the proposal.
“It’s out of my reach at the end,” Sandoval said. “Because it has to come down to what? Four votes, at least.”
The utility district will hold public hearings on Feb. 4, March 4 and April 1 at 3120 N. Abram Road in Palmview.